Is Your Definition of Success Holding You Back?

What’s your definition of success? For some of us, success is all about the end result. We want to reach the summit along our path. For others, success is in the journey. No matter how we define success, it’s critical that we’re the ones defining it. When you allow your ideas of success to be dictated by outside expectations, looking to role models, or a default idea of what success is, you open yourself up to becoming disillusioned.

You might not even have a definition — you just know that this “success” thing is out there somewhere. 

I’ve seen firsthand how this can be problematic. In the world of real estate investment, we work with all types of investors. One of the most important things for those investors to have is a plan: an idea of where they want to end up. Without this direction, building a portfolio is much more challenging.

This is even more true of us as we try to navigate our lives and careers.


5 Markers of a Great Definition of Personal Success

1) You focus on what makes you thrive.

What are you passionate about? Passion alone cannot sustain success, but it should be a part of your definition. What makes you feel fulfilled and alive? Do you dream of being able to take a month-long beach vacation someday, because you can? Or do you thrive on being in the trenches, doing the work, and seeing the results firsthand?

Many of us trap ourselves in jobs, even lives, that we hate just because we feel like they are necessary for a simplistic definition of success — earning “enough” money, “enough” notoriety. Too many of us are chasing an eternal carrot! 

The ideal definition of success blends both your present experience with your future outcomes. What are you passionate about now and where do you want those passions to lead?

2) Your attitude reflects success.

Our success — our happiness — often depends less on our goals and more on how we feel in their pursuit. Regardless of what you think of success, how the pursuit of your goals affects your life, your health, feelings, and relationships matters. For some of us, the trade-off is worth it. But ultimately, are you happy? Does pushing towards your goals make you feel good? 

If you’re feeling aimless and unhappy, it’s likely that you made a tradeoff you, in your gut, know you shouldn’t have made. If that isn’t the case, perhaps you aren’t reaching for the goals that satisfy you at your core. Feeling defeated, unoptimistic, or constantly stressed don’t make for success in life.

3) You allow your measure of success to evolve.

As we grow older, our dreams and desires are subject to change. As we gain age and wisdom, we will naturally begin to reorient ourselves, our goals, and even our idea of success. Think about it — you or someone you knew changed majors plenty of times in college. Does that mean they “failed” at those majors each time? No. They were finding out who they were and what they wanted to be.

Your definition of success is much the same. As we grow in inexperience, self-knowledge, and maturity, our priorities will shift. Our definition of success may need to shift with it. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed at anything — only that you strive to recognize that which you truly value.

4) You include your ethics.

Do you remember when Bernie Madoff was caught? I’ve been listening to a podcast about the Ponzi scheme he ran for decades, swindling tens of thousands out of their life savings with the promise of impossible returns. On the surface, before his crimes came to light, I’m sure he and those he surrounded himself with thought he was a picture of success. 

Wealthy, intelligent, and well-connected. By all measures, he had it all. Now put yourselves in Madoff’s shoes. Would you be okay with compromising your ethics, your beliefs — for his success? 

There are many times when we let compromises slip in the pursuit of success. They may not be Madoff-level deceptions, but they leave us feeling bad just the same. When we compromise our ethics — how we treat others in business, the silent rules we’ve set for our professional conduct — success is off the table. 

I always say how critical reputation and integrity are as a professional. Regardless of “getting away” with anything, compromising your ethical stance will taint any success you find. Ensure that your ethics are in the equation as you define success.

5) You aim high.

Lastly, aim high. I know people who think they’re succeeding if they pay all the bills. It’s a work-to-live mentality. While almost all of us find ourselves in this stage at some point — and there’s no shame in survival being your measure of success — I encourage everyone to aim higher.

Jump above the baseline. What do you dream of? Forget whether or not you think it’s possible. Imagine this future for yourself and chase after it. Don’t settle or leave your life with regrets because you didn’t take a chance on your dreams. 

Remember that, ultimately, all aspects of your life affect one another. You have to be willing to make trade-offs to accomplish what you desire. A desire for more money or more family time will ring up a cost elsewhere.

It’s up to you to decide what you really want and what you’re willing to do to get it.

How do you define success? Let me know in the comments.